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Indie Studio Combine Announced

by Anne Thompson
June 15, 2009 7:27 AM
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090615_dfisLEAD

There's a new producer/distrib/foreign sales combine in the works. DF Indie Studio is led by finance experts Mary Dickinson and Charlene Fisher, who are raising coin. Two years ago they first met with Ted Hope, one of several indie-prods lined up to supply future product for which there is guaranteed U.S. distribution, potentially supervised by consultant Ira Deutchman; ex-Focus and Weinstein Co. foreign sales maverick Glen Basner is set to handle foreign sales. Having domestic release assured would make it easier for producers to raise foreign funding. That's been the scary factor for producers in recent years, as studio specialty distribs have decreased, and even existing ones often refuse to sign on to projects before they are complete.

UPDATE: Dickinson and Fisher started to raise an investment fund, but as they talked to indie insiders, they moved to a more full-service model. "We encouraged them to dream larger," says Hope, "all the way beyond a fund to distribution and marketing, looking at things we felt would help them to raise money and attract producers. I was excited that they were in the under-$10 million space, as I could see the movement out of it. The other writing on the wall was the ending of producer overhead deals. Where I sit, it's producers who generate good material."

Hope also likes the promise of carefully nurtured domestic releasing that doesn't depend on 1500-screen openings. "There are so many changes in the game being played that people have to be innovative in the ways we reach upscale audiences," he says. "Newspapers are shutting down film critics, people don't go to movies, newspaper ads don't have show times, they've cut out the ways we always built interest and attention for films. It's a bigger challenge than ever before. People have to experiment if something is to pop."

Clearly, DFIS has a ways to go to reach its goals and will need to build a track record before it becomes competitive. At this stage, Dickinson and Fisher are unknown to reps for stars and name directors, who won't take a chance on a new outfit sight unseen. "If something's working, that's a good thing," says Hope. "It builds momentum and trust. They've hit some key thresholds, and like everything else they have a series of hurdles to go through."

For his part, on a non-exclusive basis, Hope has "earmarked" a "handful" of projects that DFIS is interested in, he says. But he has not yet received any funding.

It's odd that the indie duo picked the name DF Indie Studios. "Studio" to me connotes the old Hollywood system, with its back-lots and theaters (you had to have both to be called a major studio). That's not what this is. They're sending the message that they're occupying a low-budget space that the studios are not, and taking over a function that the studios have largely abandoned. While the DF Indie Studio business model is structurally sound, and relative neophytes Dickinson and Fisher have lined up strong execs, consultants and producers, their trickiest feat will make or break them: combining accessible competitive commercial indie fare with the strongest possible marketing and distribution.

UPDATE: Here's the LAT's Company Town, the Financial Times and the NYT.

The press release is on the jump.


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EXTENDED BODY:

DF INDIE STUDIOS LAUNCHES A PRODUCER-CENTRIC VENTURE WITH GUARANTEED U.S. THEATRICAL DISTRIBUTION FOR FILMS BUDGETED UP TO $10 MILLION
Led by Mary Dickinson and Charlene Fisher, and Guided by an A-List Management Team, Consultants and Advisory Board; the New York-Based Venture is Working to Greenlight a Starting Slate of Commercially Viable Films with Producing Partners Scott Free, This is that Productions, RedBone Films and Producer Jennifer Fox
NEW YORK, JUNE 15, 2009 ‚Äì Offering a new, producer-centric studio model for the independent film industry, entertainment finance and business development experts Mary Dickinson and Charlene Fisher have announced the launch of DF Indie Studios (DFIS).  The New York-based venture, guided by seasoned industry consultants and an experienced advisory board, embraces a transparent and unlevered business model that combines the best features of major studios with the cost efficiencies of independent film.
DFIS aims to finance and distribute between 10 to12 multi-genre, commercially viable films per year, budgeted up to $10 million and backed by a guaranteed U.S. theatrical release, $150 million in distribution guarantees, foreign sales, P&A revolver, as well as distribution across all platforms.  This ‚Äúnew‚Äù film financing model contains a core value that is very appealing to investors, and unique to the industry ‚Äì investors‚Äô return will be based on all the revenue streams of the company, including distribution fees and exit value.

DFIS‚Äô mandate is to serve as a home for a carefully selected group of producers, providing the tools to give their commercially viable films in this price bracket the best chance for national and international success. DFIS films will be produced by a team of established producers with successful box office track records including:  This is that Productions - Ted Hope and Anne Carey (Adventureland, In the Bedroom, 21 Grams, The Ice Storm, The Savages);  Scott Free - Ridley and Tony Scott‚Äôs shingle (Gladiator, The Taking of Pelham 123, Thelma & Louise, American Gangster);  Jennifer Fox (Michael Clayton, Good Night and Good Luck, Duplicity, Syriana); and RedBone Films whose co-founder, Samara Koffler, ran Harrison Ford‚Äôs production company for eight years.

Dickinson and Fisher are joined by Rita Chiappetta-Thibault (CFO), who, as executive vice president of finance and accounting for New Line Home Entertainment, helped grow revenues from $150 million to more than $1 billion.
The DFIS distribution strategy was developed in conjunction with veteran Ira Deutchman, a three-decade distribution and marketing expert who has worked on over 150 films and helped launch Fine Line Features and Cinecom Entertainment Group.  Foreign sales and output deals are managed by another industry veteran Glen Basner, who is CEO of FilmNation. 
For the last two years, the DFIS founders have engaged respected studio finance executive John Hadity, to guide them through the intricate world of film financing, tax incentives and production planning. Hadity, currently the chairman of the Producers Guild of America East, served 12 years as EVP of production for Miramax and currently heads Hadity & Associates.  He will work closely with DFIS EVP of Production Amy Slotnick, a studio production executive and independent film producer who recently concluded her tenure with Miramax as Senior Vice President of Production.
The DFIS advisory board includes Ben Silverman, Co-Chair of NBC Universal; David Wiederecht, President of Investment Strategies and Chief Investment Officer for GE Asset Management; David Spieler, Global Head of Duff and Phelps Technology and Entertainment Practices; and Oscar-winning actress Tilda Swinton.
“DF Indie Studios is set to become an invaluable saving grace of a currently endangered species: the intelligent, ambitious and commercially viable independent film - maybe even of intelligent, ambitious and commercially viable independent filmmakers themselves,” stated Tilda Swinton. “It is my honour and my personal pleasure to be working alongside Mary and Charlene in shaping this inspired and inspiring company.”
‚ÄúTo launch a completely unlevered company in the current climate is the right way to go for our investors, partners and producers,‚Äù said Mary Dickinson, who serves as CEO of DF Indie Studios. ‚ÄúOur investors appreciate that they will share in all the revenue streams of the studio.  They love that we will also be generating 10,000 to 15,000 film jobs over the next five years, and pumping millions of dollars into local economies with DFIS.‚Äù
‚ÄúWe couldn‚Äôt be launching the company at a more perfect time.  There is a huge opportunity in the independent film world and we believe we have found a singular place in the market,‚Äù said Charlene Fisher, President and COO of DF Indie Studios. ‚ÄúThere is a growing demand for commercial features, and a lack of quality products at the right price.  At DFIS we have worked with our production partners to provide end to end financing, a rigorous greenlight process and guaranteed U.S. distribution to meet this increasing demand. No one else is supporting films produced for up to $10 million in this way.‚Äù
Mary Dickinson (CEO) has 20 years of experience in business building, investment and restructuring in entertainment and sports.  She restructured and ran the leading extreme sports film production company, Teton Gravity Research, taking it from near bankruptcy to stability. Among other initiatives, her efforts included producing two NBC primetime pilots with Ben Silverman‚Äôs production company Reveille.  She consulted on the development and financing of RedBone Films (now a DFIS partner), and negotiated content and representation deals with ABC‚Äôs ‚ÄúThe View,‚Äù British Telecom, and William Morris.
Charlene A. Fisher (President/COO) has 16 years of experience in business development and restructuring in the entertainment, sports and internet arenas.  Most recently, she restructured and managed a portfolio company for GE Asset Management and then worked with RedBone Films to develop a dynamic new independent film production business model.  She has also worked with clients that include ABC, NBC, HBO, ESPN, The Golf Channel, NBA, NHL, MLB, and PGA and LPGA Tours, among others.
Quotes from DFIS’ production partners, advisory board and consultants:
‚ÄúI have known Charlene and Mary for almost ten years and cannot think of two more creative, honest and determined people to run DF Indie Studios,‚Äù stated David Wiederecht, President/CIO of Investment Strategies for GE Asset Management.  ‚ÄúI have seen both of them pull off what others thought was impossible, and they always keep the interests of their financial partners first and foremost in importance.‚Äù
‚ÄúWe have been working with the DF Indie Studios team for over a year now to make sure their model is designed to help the producer create great films,‚Äù said Ted Hope of This is that Films.  ‚ÄúHaving guaranteed distribution through Ira and his team, working with other key DF Indie Studios team members like John Hadity on production finance and Amy Slotnick on slate development, as well as significant P&A to support their films is something we emphasized and they are delivering.‚Äù
‚ÄúI am so excited about your plans.  Just back from Cannes where it is clear that your timing is perfect.  The current environment really pleads for this sort of new venture!  You‚Äôve got an amazing team ‚Äì all people I have known, respected and worked with for years,‚Äù stated Pat Kaufman, Executive Director, New York State Governor‚Äôs Office for Motion Picture & Television Development.
‚ÄúDFIS offers its equity investors an unprecedented opportunity by providing an unlevered business model with 105% downside risk protection and guaranteed North American distribution for all greenlit films,‚Äù explains advisory board member and investor David Spieler.  ‚ÄúAnd best of all, equity investors will share in all revenue streams of the studio including distribution fees and any exit.‚Äù
Says John Hadity, ‚ÄúI recognized immediately that DFIS was going to shift the asset class back to the producer, where it belongs.  It has been tremendously exciting to participate in the process of bringing this new model to life.‚Äù 
“The reason I have spent the last year helping to develop the unique and effective DF Indie Studios distribution plan is that the co-founders, Mary and Charlene, have created an industry-changing studio model for indie film with an exceptionally talented executive team, a passion for film and impressive partnerships,” says Ira Deutchman.
“International distributors will respond very positively to a new U.S. distribution company that can supply films with a guaranteed theatrical release and at budget levels that make sense in today’s economic climate,” stated Glen Basner.
“DF Indie Studios fills a missing niche, providing a unique way for investors to participate with independent filmmakers making films that will be distributed,” says Christopher Dixon, Managing Director of Media Investments at GGCP, Inc.
‚ÄúI wanted an opportunity to get involved in independent film with a partner that treats its investors as exactly that ‚Äì partners.  The DF Indie Studios business model has been designed as an old-fashioned, unlevered model that ensures investors share in all revenue streams of the studio including distribution fees and any exits.  Additionally, their veteran management team and producing partners are exactly the people who can deliver on the DF Indie Studios promise,‚Äù says investor Sue Callaway, former General Manager of Jaguar Cars North America, and a current contributing editor at Fortune and CNNMoney.com.


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